Korver, Teague, and the Zone Keys to the Hawks comeback win over the Pacers

Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

The Hawks overcame a 14 point fourth quarter deficit to beat the Indiana Pacers. The Hawks followed the lead of Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague, and played some tight defense, using a good zone at times, in the fourth to limit the Pacers to just nine points in the quarter and get the three point victory.

The Atlanta Hawks came back from a 14 point deficit with 6:34 to play to defeat the Indian Pacers 89-86. The Hawks struggled out of the gate falling behind 25-22 after the first quarter when David West went off for 12 points. The second unit, led by Lou Williams and Ivan Johnson, gave the Hawks a big boost to start the second quarter and the Hawks took the lead and stretched it to 10 in just 3:12 into the second. The Pacers made a run at the end to pull back to within one, and at the half the Hawks led 51-50 on 53.7% shooting, 50% for the Pacers. The second half was very different from the first as the two offenses went cold shooting (Hawks 34.8%; Pacers 32.6%) partially brought on by an increase in defensive intensity, and partially because of poor shot selection by both teams (Pacers took 14 2nd half threes and made just 3).

Indiana dominated the third quarter 27-14 and followed the lead of George Hill (10 points) and David West (6 points). The Hawks shot a dismal 27.3% from the field (22.2% from 3) and were unable to find any rhythm offensively; settling for jumpers and failing to get any kind of flow. The defense was too slow in rotations and gave the Pacers too many open looks and driving lanes. The Hawks also had a mental breakdown, turning the ball over six times in the third leading to 11 Pacers points, and Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia were hit with technical fouls for arguing with officials. At the end of three, the Hawks were down 77-65.

The fourth quarter started as the third ended, with the Hawks offense out of sync and shooting poorly. With 6:43 to play, the Hawks fell behind by a game-high 14 and at the 5:45 mark Larry Drew took a timeout. After the timeout, the Hawks went on a 16-0 run (18-0 after 6:43) to take a four point lead with 32.7 seconds to play. Kyle Korver caught fire after a dismal first three quarters where he was 2-of-7 from the field (1-of-6 from three). Korver hit a pair of big threes and a pull-up 22-footer to help close the gap. Jeff Teague had nine fourth quarter points and finished the win off with a three to put the Hawks ahead 85-83 with 1:04 to play, and a pivoting lay-in with 32.7 left to push the lead to 4. Lance Stephenson hit a three to cut the lead to one, but Larry Drew dialed up the right inbound call and freed Lou Williams for a wide-open dunk to seal the victory.

The pivotal moment of the game seemed to be the time-out with 5:45 to play. We asked Larry Drew what his message was to the team, and it was simple. "Don't Panic."

"I told them first of all, we're not going to panic. Second of all, let's not turn towards the officials and look for help, let's just be men. Let's go out and play, if they beat us, they beat us, but we're not going to make excuses for ourselves."

Josh Smith took the timeout to refocus and took responsibility for his actions earlier with the technical.

"I let the officials get in my head and I think it was a carry-over effect. I let the team know that it was on me and was my bad. Everybody just closed our mouths and let our game speak for itself and just played more aggressive and matched their physicality."

After that refocusing timeout, the Hawks looked to Korver to jumpstart the offense. After a Horford three-point play, Korver came down and hit a three to cut the lead to six. After some sloppy play on both sides, Korver took a drop-off pass from Teague, pulled up from about 30-feet, and drilled a three to cut the deficit to three. He hit the next Hawks shot as well, curling off a screen to hit a 22-foot jumper that brought the Hawks within one.

Korver continued to shoot despite his early season struggles knowing that it was a matter of time. He told us after shootaround this morning about some advice he got as a rookie from Allen Iverson, "Shooters shoot! Shooters shoot the ball!" That's exactly what he did, and tonight the Hawks patience and confidence in him paid off down the stretch.

"I appreciate it when everyone tells you to keep shooting when you miss a few in a row. You want your coach and your teammates to have your back," Korver said after the game. "It's definitely been frustrating shooting the ball the last couple of games for me, but it's a long season. I just try to stay in the gym, get up a lot of shots, and try to make a couple in a row."

"He had good looks all game long. He just couldn't hit them," Horford said of Korver. "He's a veteran player. He knows what he has to do, and he just kept shooting the ball with confidence. They eventually fell when it mattered. He bailed us out tonight."

The score stayed 83-82 for 1:54 game-time, as neither team could capitalize on offensive chances. Atlanta finally took the lead after a possession that included a pair of offensive rebounds before Josh Smith found Jeff Teague wide open for an elbow three that gave the Hawks the lead for good. Teague extended the lead on the next possession driving the lane and making a great stop and pivot move for an easy lay-in off the right block.

The Hawks have played very well this year in the fourth quarter, out-scoring opponents 81-58 in the final period. Atlanta has found an offensive spark from different players. Lou Williams had big nights against Houston and in Oklahoma City along with Al Horford, while Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver were the sparks against the Pacers. This is a drastic change from years past when the Hawks looked to just one player, Joe Johnson (occasionally Smoove), to provide the late game spark/heroics. This year, the Hawks have the ability to finish games in a number of ways. Lou Will has the ability to take a game over and score in isolation sets, they have shooters like Korver and Stevenson (Morrow too, but his minutes are lacking to say the least) that can space the floor and get points in bunches, Teague can drive the lane and create on the ball, and Horford and Smith can finish games from the post. Josh Smith talked about that versatility at the end of games, the team mentality of buying into the system, and how it is a positive change this year (try to find the subtle jabs at Joe).

"You know we're buying in [to LD's system]. Nobody's bucking the system, everybody's believing in everybody, believing in each other, believing what [LD]'s telling us to do. We're just going out there and completing the mission, and it feels good. Even when we get hit with adversity, cause it's gonna happen during this lengthy season, we're just gonna stay together. We're not a selfish bunch, we play together, and we do stuff off the court so I don't think it's a problem."

While the offense found a rhythm, the defense played as big, if not a bigger role in the comeback and victory. The Pacers scored nine points (yes, single digits) in the fourth quarter. They did not score for 6:13 of game-time down the stretch in the fourth while the Hawks made their 18-0 run (Lance Stephenson finally hit a three with 21.1 seconds to play to end the drought). Much of the reason for that stretch was the Hawks switching to zone after the timeout with 5:45 to play. The Hawks zone has been, as Drew said, "good at times and bad at times," but tonight, it was very good. The zone seemed to be called at the perfect time as the Pacers got thrown completely off rhythm and began forcing shots from the outside rather than taking advantage of their size and length inside that had gotten them the lead. The zone was clicking on all cylinders and the Hawks were moving and rotating extremely well as a unit. There were a number of times that the Pacers got a mismatch in the post with Hibbert or West on a Hawks guard, but one of the bigs (Zaza, Al, or Josh) quickly doubled to force either an errant shot or a pass out.

"Everybody got on the same page and we made plays," said Teague of the zone. "It was just like it all came together at once and it was big. I mean Zaza was on the back-line talking, so was Josh, and when we play like that we're a really good team."

"Yeah, we were just communicating, getting everybody on a string," said Smith. "Knowing that me, Al, and Zaza were the anchors so we had to communicate, we had to point, we had to direct, and I think we did a real good job with it."

"When we're running our zone the most important thing is to match up and pass off," said Drew. "There were times when we got mismatches in the zone, but we had the recognition to come and help and we were flying around. As I told the guys, some nights it's gonna be good, some nights it's not, but that's two games in a row where it's been very good."

The Hawks move to 2-1 on the year and picked up their first home victory of the young season. The team seems to have made enormous strides with their defensive intensity, especially at the end of games, and also in rebounding the ball. The Pacers have one of the longer frontcourts in the league, and have a big backcourt as well, and have been monsters in the first week on the glass. Holding them to 41 boards while getting 51 was a huge factor in the victory. The Hawks seem to have found that they are more effective when crashing the boards as a unit, and using their speed to pressure the defense, but not really get out on the break. The first game, the Hawks scored over 30 fast-break points, but lost because they were too focused on getting out and running. The focus in the past two games has been on pushing the pace but not sacrificing rebounding effort or shot selection to do so, and it has paid off big dividends. The Hawks fast-break numbers have taken a hit, but their rebounding has vastly improved and they are still getting into their offensive sets quickly. This team is starting to figure some things out defensively and on the glass, and if they can continue to do that they can be a very dangerous team.

Final Thoughts:

Smoove (whose ankle looked fine) took full advantage of his mismatch against the smaller Paul George and Sam Young in the first quarter taking his defender onto the left block for four quick hook-shots early in the game that all fell and led to a nine point quarter. The Pacers turned their focus on him in the post and started doubling, but Smith got seven assists on the night, many from passing out of those doubles. If he can continually do that, Drew will be more likely to go with the big lineup and let Smith abuse smaller defenders on the block rather than settling (and helping the D) for long jumpers. Mid-Range Shawty will hopefully transform more into Low-Post Shawty in those situations.

Zaza is a monster. That is all. (14 boards and got Hibbert totally out of his game, LD please continue to use this big lineup, thanks.)

Korver is fearless shooting the ball and his defense was a non-issue tonight. He keeps shooting, and no one minds because they know it's going to come eventually (tonight it was the 4th). His defense was solid and he held his own against the wings of the Pacers.

Poor Anthony Morrow. He continues to stay on the bench behind LD's two favorites Korver and Tolliver. I was hoping Morrow would see the floor more (at all) after his solid performance in OKC, but he seems to be the odd man out in the wing rotation.

Petro's coming back...eventually. No timetable, but the big Frenchman is back to practicing (maybe active next week on the road trip).

You aren't seeing rookies...ever (well, anytime in the foreseeable future). LD talked before the game that he explained the situation to the rookies that they're unlikely to see the floor because he has so many guys that can play, and not enough minutes. While understandable, it can be frustrating. He even admitted that it would probably take some injuries for them to crack the lineup.

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